If you're prone to colds and flu, a new study suggests you can keep them at bay with a regular program of exercise or meditation.
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers looked at 149 active and sedentary middle-aged adults to compare the preventive effects of moderate exercise and mindful meditation on the severity of colds and flu during winter.
Subjects who started a daily exercise routine had fewer bouts of illness and missed fewer days of work, researchers found. Those who also performed mindfulness meditation for 45 minutes a day over an eight-week period were sick less than their non-meditating counterparts.
The study was published in the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.
"The results are remarkable; we saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections," study lead author Dr. Bruce Barrett told HealthDay News.
"When we give flu vaccines, which is one of the most well-proven and beneficial interventions that we have, it only protects at a level of 50 to 60 percent and only for a few strains of [flu] virus," Barrett added.
"My thinking is that mindfulness meditation would reduce perceived stress and that exercise would work through more physiological pathways [to improve] the immune system," he said.
Another separate study published last year found that participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
Additional research finds that people who are physically fit and active have fewer and milder colds. Bouts of exercise may spark a temporary rise in immune system cells circulating around the body, yet the levels falls back within a couple of hours. However the researchers say that with frequent exercise, each bout can impact the number and severity of infections.